The first few years of having children takes its toll on your finances, but that doesn’t mean you have to ditch dreams of travelling. Following a family road trip through Europe with her pre-school boys, Hayley Spurway shares some experiences and tips on budget family travel.
Many families put off a ‘big trip’ before their children start school, because they haven’t been able to muster the time or money. But while the first few years of having children can be expensive and demanding, travel can be affordable and rewarding with toddlers in tow. There’s little point crossing the globe or going on safari before they’re old enough to remember it, but any adventure encompassing new languages and landscapes can be a valuable, educational experience for the whole family.
There aren’t many times during family life when you can put work on hold (or take it with you), the kids aren’t bound by school holidays and are still young enough to bed down on the front seat of a van. So, with two tots fast growing up, we seized the opportunity for a family road trip from Cornwall to Portugal before our eldest boy hit school age. Having stalled on many other trips we’d dreamt up – Oz, Cape Verde and Thailand – due to money worries, it finally dawned that we didn’t need to set our sights on such faraway places to travel. So we packed up the van and hopped on the ferry to Roscoff, from where Europe was our oyster.
With its rugged coastline, balmy climes and inexpensive sand-between-your-toes lifestyle, the west coast of Portugal turned out to be an ideal family destination: sand and surf summed up most of our days, while we also felt a little intrepid finding wild coves off the beaten track, pockets of culture in the towns and free-camping at enviable beachside locations. The children needed little in the form of toys and spoon-fed entertainment, preferring to build sand-boats, do stick-drawings on deserted beaches and hunt for treasure washed up by the sea. As well as following the map through different countries, they learnt a few words of French and Portuguese that they used on the locals in cafés and shops. By the time we were plummeted back into winter temperatures and the humdrum of the nursery routine, there was no doubt that they were happy, confident and alert little boys who’d thrived on their adventures abroad.
Here's my 10 top tips for keeping costs low on family travels:
The most effective tip is perhaps the most obvious - set limits and stick to them! Once you’ve forked out for getting there, try to keep living costs on a par with what you’d usually spend at home.
Eating out can be one of the biggest travel expenses. If you’re camping or self-catering stock up on ingredients at local markets and save your pennies for ice cream and coffee stops in cafés.
As an independent traveller in your twenties you probably sneered at all-inclusive holidays. But, as a family of four, its time to seize low-cost deals that enable you budget all your living, travel and food costs.
Travel while they're under two years old
Kids under two pay a pittance for flights and accommodation – even if they sleep in a bed and eat their way through the buffet three times a day.
Travel out of school holidays
It might sound obvious, but if your children don’t have to go to school, you don’t have to suffer the inflated costs and crowds of travelling during holidays.
Swap planes for ferries
Where possible choose a destination you can reach by ferry – not only do you have to buy only one ticket for the whole family, but you can take your own wheels and save on car hire too.
Save on toll charges by finding alternative routes – usually you’ll end up stumbling across unusual and beautiful places off the beaten track that you would’ve missed on the toll roads.
Choose your destination wisely
Choose a place where your money goes further – not necessarily by steering out of the Eurozone, but by choosing somewhere you can lead a simple, outdoor life and need little money for entertainment.
Pitch a tent, get back to nature and save on expensive accommodation. If you’ve got a van there are plenty of free van-camping spots across Europe.
Take a staycation
Save on long-distance travel by exploring the diverse and beautiful landscapes on your doorstep. If you're reading this from Britain, check out our The Best Places to Stay in Britain on a Budget book for all sorts of tips.
What tips do you have for travelling with children on a budget?